The Permanent Way

Written by David Hare
Unity Theatre (17th-19th May 2007)

Reviewed by Adam Ford

On paper, it's difficult to imagine a less entertaining idea for a play. Nine people on stage, pretending to be different people involved in the sell-off of British Rail in the 1990s, and its aftermath. So it's to the credit of writer David Hare and the second year LIPA students that they kept the audience's attention for about two hours.

Taking its name from what is apparently railway terminology for the physical elements of a railway line, The Permanent Way is a kind of dramatised documentary, which is full to overflowing with righteous anger, humanity (in the best sense) and even comedy moments. The vision of a puffed-up 'John Prescott' strolling towards the cameras in front of another smoking wreckage to announce "This must never happen again" time after time is simultaneously hilarious and aggravating. As a bereaved mother complains, the pattern goes: Rail accident. Inquiry. Recommendation. No action. Rail accident. Inquiry. Recommendation. No action."

The play does suffer slightly from the sheer number of facts and figures thrown around, and this is unfortunate because that's exactly the technique that spin doctors often use to win their arguments, blinding people with lies, damned lies and statistics. They want us to trust them, and that's the worst thing we can do.

It's common sense really, co-operation is better than competition, for everyone except the super-rich. Ok, so this isn't a perfect analogy, but how many more goals would be scored in football matches if the twenty-two players all passed to each other rather than blocking and tackling? And this applies to every aspect of society.

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